Coming Out of His Shell ONE GIFTED KIWI KID’S success story

This, is Scuter. That’s pronounced ‘Scooter’ in case you are wondering. He was named this because even when tiny, he was very quick. The spelling? Well, that was in recognition that the small parts of his carapace that he sheds as he grows, are called Scutes.

Scuter is awesome. He is an integral part of our family, living in his tank in the lounge, where we can greet him and wave to him on a regular basis. He is as much a part of the family as our cats, although, perhaps a little surprisingly, he is a lot more excited to see us than the cats ever are! Here’s a baby photo. So cute!

Scuter as a hatchling. Here, he is about 5cm long.

He is now a little over two years old. Why do I remember that? Because we adopted him at a pivatol moment in our lives; when our then six year old, multi-exceptional kid, was floundering at school and on the verge of being excluded. When he needed every bit of support we could muster.

Ever heard of the turtle technique? Sure you have. It’s the tuck and hold movement for earthquakes. But it’s also a self-management technique taught to kids who struggle to maintain a self of calm and coping. Well, our child was not having a bar of it. So it was time to fun it up. Enter Scuter.

Turns out we couldn’t get a turtle that could fully retract it’s head and tail, like in the turtle technique story. Our options were a Red-eared Slider or a Painted turtle, both of which tuck their heads and tails around the outer part of their carapace to hide. The latter we were told, is much more gentle, unlike the sliders which bite. That made for an easy choice. Gentle it was.

There was much excitement in choosing Scuter, taking him home and naming him. He was taken to meet the boys’ grandparents and even had a trip to school where he stayed for a few days for all the kids to explore and enjoy. My son’s heart swelled with love for him and he was very proud to have him at school. But he was even more pleased when he returned home again - where he belonged.

Needless to say, the turtle technique never took. But Scuter grew to be more and more a part of the family, and overtime, became a living metaphor for the growth of our youngest son, who has, since around that time, been learning at home - where he belongs.

Scuter is...

  • Cautious
  • Nervous
  • Observant
  • Brave
  • Gentle
  • Confident
  • Loving
  • Excitable
  • Eager
  • Curious
  • Bright
  • Persistent
  • And even chilled out - when he is feeling safe

Amazing how many seemingly contradictory traits can be wrapped up in one little body. But this is our Scute. One moment he may be paddling fiercely against the wall, excited to see you and wanting your attention. Another moment he may be basking peacefully on the warmth of his dock, watching unphased as you move about. While another, he may suddenly get an enormous fright from you walking past his tank, panic, and leap furiously off the dock in a most ungainly way, into the depths of the water to hide - for a brief moment at least, until he realises it was only you and that in fact he is safe, and begins to take deeper, slower breaths, calming down once more. This is our Scute.

But this is also our son - although we are still working on practicing the deep breathing bit. Oh, and our son doesn’t like going underwater either - yet. But he does go and hide just the same - although this has historically been for a lot longer than Scuter!

It’s taken these past two years to ‘unschool’ him - our son that is, not Scuter. Yes, a bit of unschooling in the traditional homeschooling sense of loosening the reigns, letting him guide the way, learning and teaching as he goes, but with the additional critical aspect of empowering him to begin a long-needed journey to heal from his school experiences. And now, we are starting to see the payoff.

Ma te whakapono, ma te tumanako, ma te titiro, ma te whakarongo, ma te mahitahi, ma te manawanui, ma te aroha, ka taea e au.

Over the past two months a new child has begun to emerge from his shell. That highly anxious, ever vigilant wee man is finding his feet and braving his “new” world. My little ‘permanent trailer’ (you know, when your kid constantly walks at your heels, close but hidden), has begun running ahead of me, venturing further afield, bouncing up (independently, with me further behind) to people he knows on the street to chat! It’s just incredible! The change is so marked, that people who know him, have been commenting about the difference they see in him.

We’ve gone from a child who “hated” writing with a vengance, to a child who has just co-authored a 5 chapter book with over 3000 words, contributing about a third of that - completing it after asking incessantly day after day if we could “please write now”.

We’ve gone from a child who could not talk about emotions and feelings in any shape or form without diving into a pit of despair in the form of fight-flight-freeze, to a child who is beginning to be able to discuss, learn and practice strategies such as deep breathing, yoga, acupressure and more!

We’ve gone from a child who shows the characteristics of Selective Mutism - being unable to speak (write/move) when anxious, as a result of muscular contraction caused by the flight-fight-freeze mechanism - to a child who has picked up the phone to make a call, answered the phone when it rang, and asked a shop keeper a question. Wow!!!

We’ve gone from a child who was terrified of separation, to a child who happily stays with his grandparents for a few hours on his own, has spent the day with cousins and an aunt by himself, and has recently, even visited the library with only his big brother by his side.

These might not seem like big successes to some, but for us, these are miracles. He is beginning to live in the world, as opposed to simpy exist in it.

By believing and trusting, by having faith and hope, by looking and searching, by listening and hearing, by working and striving together, by patience and perseverance, by doing this with love and compassion, I can succeed.

So why do I share this here, in the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour? Because if this change is possible for our gifted kid, who is so immensely sensitive to his world, and has struggled for years to cope with what the world throws at him (even the seemingly minutiae), then this change is possible for many others too - maybe even you and your child.

The keys to success? Time. Compassion. Empathy. Lots of love. Patience. And of course, hope. But as necessary as those things are, they are not enough on their own. They are only the beginning. We need supports; agencies, tools and strategies - and of course, friends and family! We also need a good understanding of giftedness as intensity, sensitivity, asychrony, and unique weave of pace, depth and complexity of feeling, thinking and learning,

For us, the biggest recent changes have come from two avenues, both of which have built on from the successes that have come from following interests, developing strengths, and living and learning in a place where he feels a sense of safety and belonging. All absolutely critical approaches to safety, belonging, empowerment, and growth.

The first of these, has been the use of the Safe and Sound Protocol, which initiates a rewiring of the brain to aid in a more appropriate response to environmental stimuli, decreasing the tendency for fight-flight-freeze. Even though the impact of this simple one-hour-a-day, week long music therapy takes time, within a few weeks we saw a happier child, who giggled at stories being read to him, wanted to try new things out, and was much more at peace with himself and the world. He was also much more able to communicate, with a significant decrease in characteristics of Selective Mutism in the months that followed on from the therapy. (On a side note, I used it too and the impact on decreasing my sensitivities to sound and being able to process with background sounds was amazing!)

With these changes already under way, our Child and Adolsecent Mental Health team was ready for our son to trial anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication. We are still on a journey with this. It’s early days yet. We held off for two years, but in hindsight, wish we had done it much, much sooner for the benefit it has brought him in being able to cope - and just as importantly, be kind to himself. Today he spoke his thoughts in front of nine family members who were all together to celebrate a birthday, a little hesitantly, but he did it. Something that simply would not have been possible even a few months back.

This is our miracle, a child who has found a sense of peace and enjoyment in life; one we wish for each and everyone of you who is sharing in this journey on a personal level. Between the SSP therapy, meds, and the strategies he is now able to learn because of these, we have a new child.

A child, who is truly coming out of his shell.

A child who is empowered to be all that he aspires to be.

Growing up multi-exceptional is hard. But if we can share our successes as a community, and be open about our journeys’ and the learning that comes from this to maintain a solution focused approach, we have a much greater chance of finding what will work for our kids. Keep reading, keep exploring, and keep trying new tools and strategies.

I wish you hope, from one whanau, to another.


Our sincere thanks go to Ali Peacock of Calming Minds Ltd. in Taupo for enabling us to access her SSP system.

Whakatauki drawn with gratitude, from the free resources offered by te reo maori classroom.

This blog was written for the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour 2018, the theme of which is Celebrating Gifted Aotearoa.


Created with images by Nick Fewings - "untitled image" • tbreyer - "poppy macro red poppy flower flowers poppy" • Jordan Whitt - "untitled image"